November 16, 2009

Tuesday, 11/17/09

Jonesin' 3:59
NYT 3:40
LAT 2:35
CS untimed

Caleb Madison's newest Bard Bulletin crossword is available now in Across Lite, at the Crossword Fiend forum's "Island of Lost Puzzles." It'll be online in Java applet form later this week. Enjoy!

John Farmer's New York Times crossword

Structurally, this is an unusual puzzle. The theme entries are 10 (or 14)-letter doubled entities criss-crossing in two 5 (or 7)-letter halves that intersect in the middle, and these are found in the four corners and in the middle of the grid. The letters in those central intersections spell out RINGO. Here's how it plays out:

• 16A. [WIth 2-Down, group with the only James Bond theme to hit #1] is DURAN DURAN.
• 18A. [WIth 10-Down, flashy jewelry] is BLING-BLING.
• 39A. "TWINKLE, TWINKLE" is [With 25-Down, start of a nighttime nursery rhyme]. It's not just the start of the rhyme/song as a partial entry—we often call it "Twinkle, Twinkle" without adding the "Little Star" part, don't we?
• 61A. [With 60-Down, #1 hit of 1969] is "SUGAR, SUGAR." The Archies?
• 64A. [With 54-Down, intro to a joke] is "KNOCK, KNOCK."
• 52D. RINGO Starr is the [Rock star whose name is spelled out by the middle letters of 16-, 18-, 39-, 61- and 64-Across].

Okay, John: Please fill us in. What drew you to playing with crossword conventions in this way? Was there a compelling thematic reason to have the middle letters spell out RINGO, or could you have just as easily gone with another 5-letter word? How many iterations did you go through while working on this puzzle?

Okay, fellow solvers: Is it just me, or was this puzzle of Wednesday difficulty for you, too? Here are the tougher spots:

• WIGAN?!? 40D: [City near Manchester]—Wiggin' out about that one? Me, too. If you didn't know that RIGEL is the name of that 46A: [Bright double star in Orion], you were sunk here.
• 53A. The SKUA is an [Arctic seabird]. Remember this one with the AUK, ERN(E), and TERN.
• 12A. OCULI are [Eyelike windows]. I prefer auriculi, the ear-shaped windows.
• 21A. [International alliance] didn't shout ENTENTE to me, so I worked the crossings instead.
• 34A. I kinda wanted the [A.P. transmission] to be a WIRE STORY, but it's a WIRE PHOTO. On Twitter, you can follow the APStyleBook or, for a more irreverent take on writing and editing, there's Fake AP Stylebook. Sample: "Avoid using 'gadzooks,' lest your monocle pop out and land in your jar of mustache wax."
• 47A. [Japanese prime minister Taro] ASO puts me in mind of taro chips.
• 59A. The weird "I MEAN NO" is clued as an [Emphatic refusal].

Matt Jones's Jonesin' crossword, "You Want Fries With That?"

This week's Jonesin' theme is unusual French fry toppings or dips, beyond ketchup and malt vinegar and my son's preference, barbecue sauce. Me, I want a dash of sea salt flakes and a little ketchup. Other options:

• 17A. [Garnish that some upscale fries at Chicago restaurant mk are served with] is TRUFFLE CREAM.
• 26A. [Ingredient served with fries and brown gravy in the Canadian dish poutine] clues CHEESE CURDS. The gravy ruins poutine for me. Not a gravy fan. As for CHEESE CURDS, I like 'em breaded and deep-fried, à la the Upper Midwest. Mmm, hot cheddar goodness.
• 40A. MAYONNAISE is the [Condiment most often used by the Dutch with their fries]. Mac, is this true?
• 56A. I don't quite understand how this one works. CHICKEN SOUP is a [Seasoning option for fries at the Japanese fast food restaurant First Kitchen]. Wet or powdered soup?
• 67A. WENDY'S FROSTY is the [Fast food dessert that some kids insist on dipping their fries in].

Freshest answers in the fill:

• The FAR LEFT is an [Ultraliberal's place on the political spectrum].
• The GEEK SQUAD is the [Tech support subsidiary of Best Buy].
• Good gravy (a nonsequitur for me)! Crosswordese ARLO gives way to his last name for a change. GUTHRIE is clued as ["Alice's Restaurant" singer Arlo].
• The F-TEST is an [Analysis named after statistician Sir Ronald Fisher]. I've heard of Fisher's exact test, too. Someone else named the F-test after Fisher.
• GLAM ROCK is the [Genre for Gary Glitter].
• SIA is clued as ["The Girl You Lost to Cocaine" singer]. Who? Sia Furler is an Australian pop singer.
• [MSNBC anchor Monica] NOVOTNY is not anyone I'd heard of. I'm not a big consumer of cable news. What I see from across the health club once a week is pretty much it.

Updated Tuesday morning:

Patrick Jordan's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Cart Game"—Janie's review

This "cart" game deals out three fresh phrases and one familiar name whose first word can be followed not by cart but by its synonym WAGON, as is made clear at 69A. [Word that can follow the starts of...]:

• 20A. STATION BREAK [Spot for a commercial] → station wagon. Here's a Hudson classic from the '40s. Are station wagons even made today or is it all-SUV-all-the-time? (Remember, this question comes from someone who lives in Manhattan and doesn't own a car. And the last time I did, it was a VW Beetle... that got great mileage!)
• 35A. CHUCK NORRIS ["The Delta Force" star] → chuckwagon. Here's an interesting backgrounder on this mobile food wagon that first came into being in the American West, in the mid-1860s. And here's a picture of one from the 1920s.
• 42A. COVERED DISH [Potluck dinner contribution] → covered wagon, the 19th century version of a station wagon? If you were crossing the Great Plains, your belongings were likely to be packed inside.
• 59A. WELCOME SIGHT [Glimpse of something pleasing] → Welcome Wagon. You and your covered wagon would not have been greeted by one on your arrival in, say, Oregon, but Wiki tells us that "the company was founded in 1928, by Thomas Briggs in Memphis, Tennessee. At that time, Welcome Wagon 'hostesses' would visit new homeowners with a gift basket containing samples, coupons, and advertising from contributing businesses. These home visits continued for over 50 years until 1998, when changing demographics meant few homeowners would be at home when representatives called." I never realized there was an actual company with this name—that that's where the phrase (apparently) came from. And it's still around—on the internet, these days.

There's a lot of good fill and cluing throughout to make this a solid kind of puzzle. For instance, there's a mid-Eastern mini-theme by way of [Palestinian leader Yasir] ARAFAT, ARABS [Jordanian majority], OMANI [Muscat resident] and KURD [Certain Turk or Syrian].

There are also a pair of hirsute creatures—one diminutive, the other... probably not. The former is the EWOK [Forest-dwelling Jedi ally]; the latter, the YETI [Hairy Himalayan humanoid]. Oh—and I nearly forgot a reference to a third creature (a certifiably real one this time) with [Cat's coat] and FUR.

About to be late? You might not be if you [Hotfooted it] RAN. If someone were doing a play-by-play, she might even say, "There he is, and he RACES IN [Enters hurriedly]!"

Other TREATS (they're not only [Halloween handouts]) include SPLOTCH [Irregular stain], because it's a great word to get your mouth around; TABASCO [McIlhenny Company sauce], because it's hot stuff; VAN clued as [Part of Mayflower's fleet], because that's a fleet of moving vans and not ocean-going ships bearing Pilgrims...; BOTOX [Wrinkle-reducing treatment], because I just like that "X"; THREE for its thought-inducing clue [Line count of a haiku]; and the homophonic crossing of SITE MAP [Table of contents on the Internet] with WELCOME SIGHT.

Finally, whether by design or chance, there's that whole assonant SE corner. Look at it: STEEP [Like a canyon's sides], DEEP [Low-bottomed] (like that canyon, no doubt) and THREE. Plus the eye-rhyme that EPEE [Olympics rapier] lends, and the true rhyme of the bottom-central PEEP [Hatchery sound]. Nice touch!

Bruce Venzke's Los Angeles Times crossword

The four theme entries end with words that can substitute for BUNCH: a VACANT LOT, SEATTLE SLEW, IMPERIAL TON, and RIVER RAFT. Two of the theme answers have 9 letters, so it was a little distracting to have an 8-letter non-theme answer, NO BIGGIE, also end with a word connoting largeness.

The theme square count is 45, which is not small but also not too dense. So I was surprised by the amount of answers that can fit the category of crosswordese (words seen more often in crosswords than in the wild). Consider BRAE, IRANI, SMOTE crossing EMOTE, the OAS, AGER and APED, ANON, E'EN, MOUE, APSE, and G-MAN. Plus a prefix (ACRO), abbreviations (APR, ABA, NET WT, TMI), partials (ALL OR, A CHIP, a single NANU, PRIORI), and a bizarre plural (MA'AMS). These outweighed the theme and the zip of MR. FIX-IT for me.